How to Jumpstart a Local Green Business Council

By now it’s clear that “green” isn’t going out of style. In fact, a 2011 Gartner survey predicts that improving sustainability will become a top five priority for 60 percent of major Western European and North American chief executive officers (CEOs) by 2015. Joining or developing a green business council is one way to position sustainability at the top of this priority list-”and keep it there.

Green business councils, also called sustainability councils, provide a forum for local businesses to work together and identify ways to reduce their environmental impact. To get the most out of your involvement with an established green council, or to learn how to form a new council, follow these easy steps:

1.Conduct preliminary research: Before developing a group, first conduct background research to see if a similarly focused organization already exists. If there is a well-established council that focuses on local sustainability efforts, work on gaining access and making connections within this group. If not, begin by reaching out to sustainability professionals within organizations in your community who may be interested in developing a green business council.

2.Select a passionate representative: The individual who will attend council meetings on behalf of your organization should be both dedicated to sustainability and the council’s goals. Select a passionate member of your organization’s sustainability team to act as your company’s voice. If such a department doesn’t exist, choose a responsible individual who has an interest in sustainability. Make sure he or she is aware of the ongoing commitment this role will require.

3.Secure CEO support: Your CEO will likely want to understand the benefits and logistics of joining or developing a green business council. Have your newly appointed spokesperson provide this information, including examples of the successes other organizations have achieved. This should include cost savings and other financial benefits. In addition, outline your company’s sustainability goals to highlight the benefit to your organization.

4.Hammer out the details: For newly developed councils, the next step is to call for a launch meeting. At the meeting, finalize details like the council’s official name, mission and guidelines for things such as attendance and meeting frequency. To stay focused on the overall purpose of the council, the mission should be clear and supported by all members. Suggest assigning specific responsibilities in order to divide duties such as website development and upkeep, meeting scheduling and membership list maintenance.

5.Consider the bigger picture: For your council to achieve long-term success, member organizations must share the same vision. For instance, all members should agree upon a mission and growth plans. Some councils start small and grow slowly while others aim to gather a large following upfront. To ensure members continue to find value over time, outline plans for future growth, such as membership requirements and ideal organization size, at the start.

6.Determine areas of opportunity: Encourage each spokesperson to pinpoint sustainability challenges within their own organization and share these with the council. This can help identify the focus of future projects. For example, if more than one member organization wants to reduce food waste, workplace composting may be an ideal first initiative. In some cases, other member organizations will have faced similar challenges and can share best practices for tackling the issues. To encourage open communication among member groups, members should agree to protect the confidentiality of shared information and agree to keep the environment free from competition and solicitation.

7.Reach out to other green councils: Although specific challenges and objectives will vary based on location, advancing sustainability will be a common goal of all green councils. Therefore, don’t hesitate to contact an established council for advice on expanding membership or project development. This tactic was used by the Southern California Sustainability Council, which worked with the Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council on project planning. Despite geographical differences, both councils’ goals focused on improving sustainability in local communities.

8.Develop toolkits: Significant information is gathered throughout the planning and implementation of projects, such as in the creation of a composting program. Create toolkits that compile this information, including a project outline and FAQs, so that other organizations can easily replicate the project. Make these resource guides available for download on a council website. This gives non-members the chance to be inspired by projects and may even help with recruitment efforts.

By following these steps, organizations can understand what to expect when joining or developing a green council. Whether participation will be within an already established council or a new one, make sure your business makes the most out of its membership and becomes well rooted in the local community’s sustainability journey.

Melanie Boyle is manager of Sustainability with Cincinnati-based Cintas Corp., and has been instrumental in the development of the Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council (GCGBC);, whose mission is to share best practices across companies and drive change in the Greater Cincinnati region. Cintas is also a GCGBC member and Boyle is an active participant of the Southern California Sustainability Council, She can be contacted at [email protected].